Title: Can I Keep You?

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: T

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not. I claim nothing but the plot.

Summary: B:tVS, SG-1. After killing Angel, Buffy runs to Los Angeles... but she doesn't stay there. 1800 words.

Spoilers: B:tVS through 2.22 "Becoming, Part 2". Stargate SG-1 through 2.02 "In the Line of Duty".

Notes: Answers the TtH "Mother Child Reunion" challenge. By canon timelines, Buffy ran away from home in May 1998 by airdates; Captain Sam Carter encountered Jolinar on July 3rd of that year.

Buffy climbed down from the bus that had taken her to Colorado Springs, a duffle bag containing all her current worldly possessions slung over one shoulder, and sighed. She'd been traveling for more than a day now, ever since she turned in her notice at the cafe in Los Angeles, and she was exhausted. If she'd had any spare money, she'd have started looking for a hotel-- but it wasn't even dark yet, and besides, she'd promised herself to save at least enough for a bus ticket back and another week's rent at her old apartment, just in case things didn't work out here.

It wasn't like Dr. Carter had any idea she was coming. She might not want Buffy to stay with her; there had to be a good reason she'd never got married or had a family. What would she want with a teenage dropout who didn't even legally belong to her anymore?

Buffy shook her head at that pessimistic thought, and pulled a much-worn streetmap out of her pocket. It wasn't like the woman who did have a legal claim on her wanted her, either, and it couldn't hurt to try. Nothing Dr. Carter had to say could possibly hurt as much as the things her mom-- the things Joyce had said to her that last night in Sunnydale.

I am your mother, and you will make time to explain yourself.

You walk out of this house, don't even think about coming back!

Her friends would probably say Buffy was overreacting, running away, but her friends didn't know. She'd never told them. It wasn't just the Angel thing, though that was part of it now; how could she stay there in the same town where she'd had to kill her boyfriend? Even if she hadn't killed Angel, though, how could she ever have gone back? The last time she'd started talking about vampires and Slayers, her parents had had her locked up like a crazy person without even trying to believe her. There was no possible explanation she could give now that wouldn't lead to drugs and straightjackets all over again.

Even after she'd let the doctors think that they'd cured her that first time and they'd let her go home, her parents had kept fighting over it, over her. And then one memorable day she'd heard Hank shouting something that had changed her perception of herself forever:

She's not even really ours! Why don't you just give her back? That would solve all our problems!

Back to who? Buffy hadn't dared ask, especially after the divorce. He'd still acted like he cared to her face, and Joyce never mentioned it, but Buffy couldn't un-know what she knew. She'd secretly broken into Joyce's locked files in search of clues, and sure enough, she'd found records of a private adoption and copies of once-yearly letters exchanged with a Dr. Samantha Carter. She'd done a little public research after that, some of it with Willow's help, and had unearthed a wealth of information.

Dr. Samantha Carter had turned out to be a brilliant, driven astrophysicist who held the rank of Captain in the Air Force; she was also blonde, tall, blue-eyed, and beautiful. Clearly, Buffy hadn't gotten her height from her, but there were other points of resemblance, enough to convince Buffy that the whole thing wasn't some terrible practical joke. She'd pilfered a picture of Dr. Carter and studied it often over the next couple of years, especially when things got rough between her and Joyce, daydreaming about what life with her real mom might have been like. But there'd never been any real reason to act on it until this summer.

Buffy had taken that picture with her when she fled Sunnydale after Angel's death, staring at it frequently as she contemplated whether to try to make those dreams a reality. If going back meant rejection, and psych wards, and Destiny... going forward might be totally unknown, but there was no way it could be worse.

Two months had passed while she made up her mind and earned enough money to make the trip. She'd traced the route from the bus station to Captain Carter's address on the map dozens of times, obsessively planning what she would say. And now that the day was finally here...

Buffy swallowed, put the map back in her pocket, and started walking. She probably should have called first, but it was too late now. Some part of her had been afraid that the woman might reject her out of hand long-distance, crush her hopes without even seeing her. This way, at least she'd get to look her in the eye, see first-hand what her reaction was without having to try and interpret it by sound. Buffy thought she deserved at least that much.

There hadn't been much in the way of detail in the return letters from Dr. Carter in Joyce's files, but there had been one near the top that mentioned another girl, an orphan she'd met last October. Dr. Carter had talked about how it made her think of "what might have been", and how she'd thought about adopting the girl, before the guilt about what she'd "given up", plus her work schedule, had led her to bow out in favor of some other woman she worked with. Surely that meant she'd be interested in at least meeting Buffy? Hopefully even putting her up for a few days, helping her find a place to start over, if she still didn't want to keep her for herself?

Buffy wrapped her arms tightly around herself as she walked and tried to take deep breaths. Just a few more blocks, just a few more minutes, and she'd have her answers. She wanted to make a good first impression, and Panicky Buffy was not the way to get there.

"Buffy Anne Carter," she murmured to herself under her breath, hopefully. "Elizabeth Anne Carter?" It had a nice sound to it.

...Only a few more steps; this was the door, she'd found it at last.

Trembling a little, Buffy raised her hand and pressed the doorbell.

Sam looked up at the sound of the doorbell, slightly puzzled as to who might be coming to see her at this time of day. She still had a few days to go yet on her medical leave before Janet would clear her for missions again, and the doctor had stopped by already around lunchtime to see how she was doing. There was no one else who would know she was home this week besides her teammates, and it was way too early for the Colonel or Daniel to be on their way down from the Mountain.

Maybe Janet had sent Cassie by again? God, she hoped not. The look on the girl's face when Sam had threatened to kill her was still fresh in Sam's memory; it didn't matter that it hadn't really been her, it still felt like it had been. It was a good thing she'd encouraged Janet to adopt Cassie instead of trying to fight for her herself; this incident just proved how unfit a mother she'd have been.

As if Sam hadn't known that already. She was reminded of it every January when the annual letter from her cousin Joyce arrived. Joyce had been older than her, already married, and infertile; when Sam refused to have an abortion, her father had arranged everything with the Summers family, insisted she keep her grades up in the meantime, and then pretended it had never happened the minute it was all over. If she'd the courage to do what she really wanted--

--well, she wouldn't be here now, that was for sure. As an unwed teenage mother, she'd probably never have been able to join the Air Force, much less pursue the amazing career she'd had. Nor would she have met Daniel, Janet, or Colonel O'Neill. Did that make the abandonment more excusable, somehow? Did the thrill of stepping foot through an artificial wormhole and traveling to other planets outweigh the pain she knew her daughter must have gone through when Joyce and Hank divorced two years ago? But then again, would things have been any better if she'd kept Beth with her? She'd imagined it a time or two: working a job flipping burgers somewhere to pay for living expenses while doing college part-time, leaving her daughter with friends and family because she couldn't have afforded a babysitter...

Well, at least she'd probably have been spared her disastrous engagement to Jonas Hansen, she thought with a wry burst of humor.

The doorbell rang again, and Sam shook off her reverie. She wiped at her face with a tissue, hoping she looked at least somewhat presentable, and went to the front door. The peephole showed her a teenager, blonde haired, with a duffel over her shoulder; Sam had a feeling she should recognize her, but couldn't place her just from that distorted image. Whoever she was, she didn't look like a door-to-door salesman or an NID agent.

Sam sighed and undid the lock, but left the door chain on. No point taking chances. "Hello?" she asked carefully. "Can I help you?"

The girl took a step back, an almost fearful expression on her face, then lifted her chin and met Sam's eyes through the gap. "Captain Samantha Carter?" she asked, determinedly.

"Yes?" Sam answered, trying to place where she'd seen that green-hazel gaze before.

"I--" The girl said, then swallowed. "I'm Buffy," she said. "Um. Elizabeth, I mean. I'm-- I'm your daughter."

Sam froze, lifting a shocked hand to her mouth. Then, seeing the girl's expression start to droop in rejection, she hurriedly reached up, undid the chain, and threw the door wide. "You..." she said, then took a deep, shocked breath. "Beth?" She reached out a hand to touch the girl's cheek.

She recognized her now, from scattered photos received over the years, but she seemed so weary. And so short! She didn't get that from the Carters... but what was she doing here at all? Surely, she wouldn't have found out about Sam unless something terrible had happened to Joyce? Her mind whirled crazily as she stood there absorbing her daughter's presence.

Beth smiled tentatively at her, and Sam melted, reaching out to wrap the girl up in her arms. Maybe she'd be embarrassed later at how emotional she was still acting from what had happened with Jolinar, and maybe this was going to cause the very problems with her career that Janet had warned her about when they'd first discussed the problem of Cassie needing a home, but right now, Sam didn't care.

"Can I keep you?" she whispered into her daughter's hair.

Quietly, against her chest, Beth burst into tears.